Movement: Trends and challenges in active travel
Each month, the Quality of Life Foundation Associates meet to discuss one of our six themes: control, health, nature, wonder, movement and belonging.
The subject of this workshop was movement, and its aim was to understand trends and challenges that face the promotion of active travel when designing, commissioning or consulting in neighbourhoods. Guests were Isla Jackson, Civic Engineers, who shared how Glasgow’s Flourishing Molendinar project is helping children get to their primary and secondary schools, and public health specialist, Lucy Saunders, who talked us through her development of the Healthy Streets index.
Blackhill in North East Glasgow scores highly on the deprivation index and residents don’t have easy access to public transport, nor is there much private vehicle use. Wedged between two major motorways, the community’s children negotiate the busy slip road daily and on foot. Poor sight lines coupled with speeding vehicles have meant near misses and incidents of children getting hurt.
When local children’s activity and community group St Paul’s Youth Forum lobbied the local council for assistance, they became frustrated that they were not getting anywhere quickly enough and took matters into their own hands. They painted segregated cycle lanes on the neighbourhood roads, which pushed the issue up the council’s agenda, and the forum took the idea to Sustrans.
As a result, Glasgow City Council is repurposing carriageway space to have segregated cycle lanes and to improve the footway so that people have more space to move around safely. The teams are now applying for approval to connect the new bike and walking paths into Glasgow’s The Avenues to cater for commuters and city centre trips.
The Healthy Streets matrix has been adopted in cities such as London, aiming to make the ‘default’ for street and movement design people-focused. The matrix is a set of 10 indicators depicting how people feel on streets.
Its choice of wording is purposeful, and designed to open the conversation beyond consultants who are the majority of those with a voice in this space. The strategy was to ensure its framing and presentation helped it appear not ‘owned’ by anyone; for it to be unthreatening to incumbent mayors, remain in place and become the new, and better, default benchmark for policy.
London has managed to focus on design details of proposals while looking at the governance of decision making around the 10 healthy Streets indicators. Lucy notices that other cities are trying to make change in spite of the system and in London they’re trying to make the system drive the changes. Changes aren’t necessarily big, or flashy, and they may focus on the ‘feel’ rather than the ‘look’ of the environment. Her prime example was the roll-out of 20 m/h streets and the introduction of ‘school streets’, which have largely been enforced through signage. These projects aren’t exciting but are fundamentally making life easier for people day to day.
Associates discussed case studies and questions posed around blockers delivering more projects based on active travel and public transport use outside of cities. These were some of the points raised:
- Thoughtful street-scape and connection between individual developments falls short when councils don’t have a holistic plan. The best public realm requires councils to be organised, to have an agreed strategy in place and to commit to funding.
- There’s anxiety in councils about spending money to undertake innovative projects, and risking getting it wrong. Furthermore, budgets are allocated by departments, in silos. The action of one departments’ spending can contradict or undermine the ambitions of others’. Then budget becomes the excuse not to try better. Using nudge tactics, designers and consultants should demonstrate how councils can gain with better design.
- Developments which are created to promote active travel and make streets safer can live or die on community consultation. The Mini-Holland scheme in Waltham Forest was largely rejected by local business owners who didn’t understand the benefits due to poor council engagement. It was being done to the community, instead of for or with them. The scheme has now been deemed a massive success.
- We need to rethink the design for modes of transport like Crossrail which doesn’t have easily accessible toilets, potentially excluding the elderly, children, menstruating or menopausal people or those with disabilities.
- Feeling safe is different to being safe. Those who are blind or deaf perceive shared surfaces and environmental stressors differently. Where councils are asked to promote active travel, parking standards or fast-moving cars and bikes are often prioritised.
- Transport is weighted towards working commutes rather than smaller, local trips taken majoritively by mothers, children and the elderly.
- People sitting behind desks but not living in places can create a distance to engaging with the local area, as they do not necessarily see themselves (or are perhaps not seen) as the key audience
With the increase of talking about 20-mins neighbourhoods and Liveable Streets, and with COP26 coming to Glasgow in November, the conversation around promoting active travel and the focus on ‘local’ is likely to advance quicker in the near future.
What do you think? Do you have any good examples of projects that promote active travel, innovative public transport or more intelligent ways of managing car use? Get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear from you.